PICTURES OF WWI AVIATORS (Illustration) World History American History Biographies Famous Historical Events Famous People Film Geography Social Studies STEM World War I Aviation & Space Exploration

Although planes were used by both sides during WWI, they were still primitive. The war started less than eleven full years after the Wright brothers flew their first powered flight in December of 1903. This photo, from 1916, depicts how machine guns could be mounted on a parasol monoplane. Image online via the BnF (Bibliothèque nationale de France), département Estampes et photographie, EI-13 (474).


The National Archives and the Library of Congress have digitized pictures of WWI-era planes, pilots and general war activities. This overview begins with President Wilson before Congress - on the 3rd of February, 1917 - announcing the official break in relations with Germany.

Companies manufacturing war materiel had to greatly increase production. Before the war, for example, America had few military airplanes:

  • The Dayton-Wright Airplane Company put a completed plane on display at one of its plants.

  • To shape helmets, the Philadelphia company of Hale & Kilburn used a large press. 

  • Chain screens on steel helmets - made by the E. J. Codd Company in Baltimore - were designed to protect soldiers' eyes from exploding fragments.

Conducting a reconnaissance mission was not as simple as flying over an area of the ocean, like we do today:

  • Returning from a U-Boat scouting party, an aerial naval observer had to descend from a "Blimp" type balloon. He is somewhere along the Atlantic Coast.

  • Lieutenant Kirk Booth, of the U.S. Signal Corps, had to be lifted skyward by a giant Perkins man-carrying kite. He practiced at Camp Devens in Ayer, Massachusetts.

Becoming a pilot, a job which promised a very short life expectancy, was not easy:

American pilots, many of whom would be combat-trained by veterans of the Lafayette Escadrille and the Lafayette Flying Corps, prepared for war with their primitive-appearing planes:

  • 1st Lieutenant Joseph E. Carberry, from South Carolina, was an early pilot who, in 1914, trained at Rockwell Field in San Diego, California.

  • Lieutenant Earl Carroll, a prominent composer, was also a full-fledged aviator in the U.S. Service. He flew, in 1918, what was then dubbed a “fast scout machine.”

  • 2nd Lieutenant Lawrence S. Churchill also trained at Rockwell Field in 1915. One needed to dress warmly to fly planes of that era.

Bombs, dropped from airplanes, were not the only means of inflicting deadly damage on the enemy:

  • The largest French gun [320 mm] is shown here at the moment of firing during a night bombardment.

  • During the day, a French cannon sent projectiles into the German lines. Gunners had to protect their ears from the noise of the explosion.

  • About three hundred feet above the fighting line, a daring French photographer took a rare photograph of French troops on the Somme Front, launching an attack against the Germans.

European children suffered greatly during the war. Not only were they among the estimated 4 million civilians who died, they endured fear, displacement and serious injuries:

  • Germany’s Great Air Raid on London sent many wounded school children to the hospital, in 1915.

  • The American Red Cross established a home for refugee children at Grand Val, near Paris. The strain of war showed in their faces.

  • Belgian school children were able to spend a bit of time on the coast near Dieppe, Belgium. The American Red Cross sponsored the outing.

  • While waiting for a train, French refugee children - en route to a safer location - were able to have bread and milk which was supplied by a soldiers canteen.

People everywhere longed for the war to be over. Even a rumor, that an armistice would end hostilities, caused great celebrations:

  • Word spread throughout Times Square, on the 7th of November (1918), that Germany was about to surrender. Even when the government quashed the rumor, people continued to celebrate.

  • When the actual armistice was announced - on November 11, 1918 - thousands gathered on Philadelphia's Broad Street, celebrating on all sides of a replica Statue of Liberty.

It is difficult to put aside the extreme suffering and misery which the war caused for so many people. But at its end, one positive fact was clear to all: The future of powered flight was very bright indeed.

0 Question or Comment?
click to read or comment
2 Questions 2 Ponder
click to read and respond
0 It's Awesome!
vote for your favorite

Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5183stories and lessons created

Original Release: Aug 01, 2008

Updated Last Revision: Jun 12, 2017

To cite this story (For MLA citation guidance see easybib or OWL ):

"PICTURES OF WWI AVIATORS" AwesomeStories.com. Aug 01, 2008. Sep 20, 2019.
Awesome Stories Silver or Gold Membership Required
Awesome Stories Silver or Gold Membership Required
Show tooltips